Post-protest, govt rethinks US gun deal


India’s plans to urgently purchase M777 ultra-light howitzers from the US for deployment along the China border in the east have hit a roadblock as the Defence Ministry has developed second thoughts following an Army report that the gun may fall short of desired specifications.

While the Army, sources said, also took the line that these “deviations” were not that significant and could be waived, the Defence Ministry is taking no chances given the anti-corruption onslaught the government is under.

It is learnt to have asked the Army to further re-examine the deal as these specifications were drawn up by the Army itself.

The problem over this order of close to 150 guns, in fact, has to do with another global tender that the Army had issued for light howitzers. That tender process had run into a tangle after one of the key competitors — Singapore Technologies (ST) — had come under the CBI scanner in the ordnance factory scam. ST’s Pegasus gun at the time was the lead contender in the trials.

The government had then decided to go for a direct government-to-government deal with the US, under the Foreign Military sales route.

The deal is important because India wants to significantly upgrade its presence and capabilities on the India-China border, particularly in the eastern sector. The light howitzer gun was assessed to be the most appropriate artillery equipment in the hilly terrain.

The US gun on offer, M777, was accordingly considered. At that point, sources said, the Defence Ministry had made it clear that the specifications ought to be the same as those issued while floating the earlier global tender.

The Army, on its part, had pointed out that using the same yardstick could result in deviations.

As a result, the US gun, which is made of titanium and weighs about 4 tonnes, does fall short on some counts:

The angle of depression is not enough for it to fire at tanks.

There is no automatic loading facility as it does not have an auxiliary power unit, which would increase the weight.

It lacks a safety catch mechanism.

At the same time, sources pointed out, the gun has other positives like being simple to operate and proven in battle. The Army top brass is said to be of the view that this order should therefore be delinked from the original tender, and that the M777s be purchased to fill the gap now. The tender can be pursued as and when blacklisted firms are allowed to participate in trials, the Army feels.

With some of these blacklisted companies obtaining a stay from the Delhi High Court, delinking the two deals may be the only way out, except that the same specifications have been used in both cases. The entire issue, sources said, will only get more complicated in the days ahead.

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Posted by pilotpaul on Aug 31 2011. Filed under All News, Army. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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